This situation comes up quite often, and it did again the other day in an email I received from a small business owner.

This business owner heard me speak a couple of years ago and has been an avid follower of my blog ever since.

The business owner’s problem was simple yet tough.

He had several prospects, but despite his best efforts, they wouldn’t switch from their current supplier who they had being buying from for years.

He reached out to me looking for ideas.

Key in these situations is to understand why the prospect has the long-standing relationship.  If it’s built on personal connections, it will be more difficult than one built on business.

The customer with the deep personal connection needs to be treated with respect.  Trash talking is simply not acceptable!   Not only does it destroy your integrity, but it can spin out of control very quickly.

Your focus needs to be on identifying what the customer values and the weaknesses in the competitor’s approach to serving them.

A great opportunity exists around holiday periods.  Many times companies will not be as focused as they should be during holiday periods.  It might be reduced hours, reduced delivery, or simply being closed.  This is where you can come through by being the supplier that is open and making things happen.

Best way to show this is by communicating with not only your customers, but also with your prospects several weeks ahead of any holiday period, letting them know what you and your company are doing.  This demonstrates commitment, and I’m amazed at the number of times I’ve worked with clients to execute this process and I have yet to see it not work.

Another approach I like is taking some of the same support services you provide to your existing customers and offer them to prospects.  If you’re in an industry where safety is important and you offer safety programs to your customers, do the same to big prospects.

The fact you are willing to go to this level to help the industry will be seen as a demonstration of being a sales leader. People want to buy from leaders, and again — every time I have used this approach with clients, it has worked.

Third approach — and I share it last because it’s the easiest to do — is set yourself up as the “secondary supplier.”  With this approach, your opening with the prospect is all about protecting them from any unforeseen circumstances that might arise with their primary supplier.

Your goal is to “only” provide a small amount on-going, allowing you to remain an established supplier.   I’m not as big a fan of this approach, as it can keep you small for too long.  Where it does work is in those situations where you suspect the other supplier  may very well encounter significant problems some time in the future.

An approach I’m not keen on is playing the price game with a prospect who is loyal to a competitor.  Anyone can play the price game, and once it’s started, it is very hard to stop.  Reason being is the competitor who is already in place will most likely match you and then take the same approach to one of your loyal customers.

Even worse is the salesperson who tells the prospect how much they need to do business with you to keep the other competitor honest with their pricing.

To me that is a recipe for failure, because the loyal customer will view it as a personal attack on them and in turn they will share it with your competitor.  I’ve seen this happen on several occasions, and never once has the outcome been pleasant for either party.

End result with the price game is nobody sells more of anything, but everybody makes less money.

Don’t lose sight the entire time you’re trying to dislodge the competitor that your prospect is loyal to how important loyalty can be.

A loyal customer can and will create significant opportunities for both sides.  As much as you’re trying to dislodge a competitor’s loyal customer, they to are trying to dislodge your loyal customer.

Copyright 2015, Mark Hunter “The Sales Hunter.” Sales Motivation Blog. Mark Hunter is the author of High-Profit Selling: Win the Sale Without Compromising on Price.

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